Main Street America – Lessons on How to Thrive & Survive

Strawberry Display

Just recently, I had visited some small towns and cities to see what is happening on Main Street America. While I walked up and down the streets, there were quite a few things that grabbed my attention along the way. The major thing I had noticed right away is that there were new businesses opening up on the main streets. My initial thought was, ‘Could it be that our economy is finally starting to move forward in a much more positive direction?’ Even though there were new businesses popping-up, I recognized very quickly that there were quite a few empty storefronts with “For Rent” signs in the windows. I needed more insight, and so, I decided to visit the new businesses, as well as the ones that have survived the ups and downs over the past seven years, and here are my findings:

Storefronts with a Presence. I get so excited when businesses pay attention to their storefronts. For example, tasteful A-Frame signs that highlight specials along with seasonal potted plants and décor are all tasteful accents that people notice. Most importantly, using windows to tell eye-catching stories to grab the attention of passers-by is a continuation of this presence. Now, unfortunately, there are quite a few businesses that ignore this layer of marketing. These simple practices can attract customers without you saying a word. I have also found that changing the look of your windows every 4-6 weeks can promote your business after hours. You just have to be creative with your stories. Please know that any business can use their storefront in this manner.

Welcoming Atmosphere. The busy shops greeted customers with a warm welcome. Their staff was friendly, accommodating and well versed on the products and services offered. Many were very happy to share their personal favorites. In one shop, I thanked an employee for being so helpful, and he told me that he really loves his job and helping customers. Wow, his response made my day and I was secretly hoping that the owner had overheard his amazing comment. Now, I did walk into a store (an hour before closing.) where the owner was vacuuming and didn’t stop to greet customers. While I was looking around, she was cleaning up and getting ready to close. I felt as though I was holding her up, so, I decided to leave. It is a shame, because she really had a nice selection of items to peruse.

If you have set hours for your store, and they are clearly stated, be sure to stick to them. Also, it is a good idea to save your major clean-up for after hours. When customers walk into your shop, it is important to be engaging and see how you may help them. You will find that this is a great opportunity to see how they found out about your business, plus you can add them to your mailing list so you may keep in touch and let them know about future events, new arrivals, and sales. Be sure to share these key points with your staff so they offer a similar experience.

Extra Perks. Who doesn’t enjoy little perks when you enter a business? I would have to say that most customers pay attention to these little details. Like when I entered a shoe store that actually had you sit down so they could measure your foot size. While looking around they offered you a cup of hot coffee or tea. Talk about a nice touch! Oh yes, and the clothing store that had a personal stylist on staff to help you put together a fantastic outfit(s) that complemented your body type and key features. Do these perks cost extra money? Besides the coffee and tea, most of them come down to training your staff and maximizing their time while they are working. Instead of standing behind a counter, encourage them to walk around and interact with the customers. It really makes a difference.

Consistency with Products & Services. If you offer certain brands at your store, be sure to have a decent inventory of at least the top-sellers of each collection. If you are trying to carry a minimum of each item, see if your suppliers are willing to allow you to place special orders, or if they will ship directly at no additional cost. You want to be front-of-mind—especially when it comes to the brands that you offer. If the customer is unable to purchase items from your shop, they will go elsewhere, or, they will order online. It is so important to be accommodating at all times. It gives your customers a reason to keep on coming back to you. That’s what you want, right?

When it comes to services, this is where ongoing training will ensure that your staff is reading from the same page. Besides training, surprise evaluations will help you see where some employees may need some extra guidance. Ask your top producers within your business to become mentors. You will find that this method may create some positive results. Just put some thought into who you partner together.

Cleanliness. Daily walkthroughs of your business, from entrance to exit, should be a part of your checklist before you open. If anything needs to be addressed, please take care of it right away if possible. Depending on the volume of your business, your walkthroughs may have to take place more frequently. Bathrooms are one area in which customers gauge the overall cleanliness of the business. I have walked through some businesses recently where I am very surprised to see dirty windows, excessive dust bunnies, and holiday decorations still out and about. Paying attention to these details definitely will have an impact on your business.

Clear Signage. Is your signage clearly representing your business? Can people see it as they drive down the street? Are your hours marked on your door or reception area? Are you encouraging people to “Like” and “Follow” your Social Media pages? There are ways to tastefully display these items. Ask a local printer or sign company for some insight. They would be more than willing to assist you. Just remember to be creative.

One shop that I walked by during my tour had a sign in their window that said “Don’t leave without a tweet?” Yes, the URL for their Twitter page was clearly stated, and it encouraged passers-by to “Follow” their shop and to send a quick “Tweet” for a chance to win a prize. Not only were they building their Social Media presence, but they created a perfect platform to start a dialogue with potential or existing customers.

Accommodating Hours. Why is it that most businesses are only open when people are at work? If you have no traffic during the day, why not shift your hours to accommodate your customers’ schedules? Partner with local cafes, wine shops, restaurants and spas so you may give people a reason to visit your business after hours. Customers are always looking for a mid-week escape—especially when the weather is nice. Your town could surely provide one, right?

Active Follow-up. I had noticed that some businesses wanted to keep in touch with me after my visit and encouraged me to sign-up for their newsletter. If you can, have a computer kiosk in your retail area or front desk that makes it easy for customers to sign-up. You can also encourage them to visit your website via their Smartphone to be added to your list. If they sign-up in-store, offer them a special gift or savings. One location had me sign an autograph book that also requested my contact information. A couple of days after my visit, I had received a handwritten thank you note along with an enticing incentive to return to their business in the near future. Yes, active follow-up is a great way to keep in touch with new and existing customers. It may create a little more work for you, but the return could be grand if done correctly.

Community Involvement. During my tour, I had visited a business that was very involved with their local community. On their door they had a sticker that stated they were a member of their city’s Chamber of Commerce. Behind the counter they had a tasteful display of the awards and acknowledgements that they have received from local organizations over the years. I had asked the owner how he finds time to support all of these organizations, and he told me that his local town has been so good to him that it is only right to give back and be good to them. He also expressed to me that planning and scheduling allows him to dedicate time to these organizations throughout the year.

I was really impressed with his enthusiasm and love for his community. Building business relationships with others takes time but the results are long-lasting. Mapping out your calendar each month helps you to find the time to attend community meetings or events. I always suggest to clients to attend at least three a month. If it is hard to break away from work during the day, then try to attend these gatherings before or after work. Just be sure to stay committed.

Again, these are just some of the main points I had noticed during my visits. Main Street America has to work that much harder to attract and maintain customers. When your business consistently offers a memorable experience from beginning to end during each visit, you will definitely start to see your business grow and prosper. If you don’t believe me, study the businesses that have been around for over 100 years. Watch how they treat and interact with their customers. You will begin to see a pattern.

Good luck!

Laura

At Nine Dotz Consulting, we offer customized marketing services that get your business noticed. Retail and marketing classes, merchandising ideas, launch parties and social media development are just some of the services that we offer. Schedule a complimentary consultation today!You can reach Laura Cummins at: laura@ninedotz.com

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